Dialogue: Tom Atlee (II)

Dear David,

I've read the responses and your comments; this material is indeed rich. Joanna's observation that "living into being" is "more accurate than organize, build, construct, create, because it transcends the one-way causal flow those verbs denote" was a delightful insight to me, which I shall keep along with David Spangler's great phrase, "We live in a co-incarnational universe." [see http://www.co-intelligence.org/P-Spangler.html ]. And Elisabet's remarkable commentary on dandelions and reference to "Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context" provides further rationale for addressing the systemic dimensions of the transformation, for the system provides a major part of the context within which the transformation of people's minds, hearts and behaviors will take place. Perhaps we need a book, "Consciousness and the Transformation of Culture: The Forgotten Factor of Context."

Here are some thoughts that came while reading Richard Perl's response and your comments:

1) I am familiar with subsidiarity in politics, of which federalism is a form. Has "subsidiarity economics" been articulated elsewhere? in the sense of the inquiry: What is the lowest level at which a specific economic production or distribution function (such as assembling a locomotive since planes are so controversial! or the growing of vegetables) is most effectively done (where "effectively" is defined in terms of sustainability and any other criteria we place choose to include, but it needs to be explicit and well explored through democratic deliberations). Has anyone done studies of what things would best be done through local production, regional production, or long-distance trade — with a bias towards the local, but reasonable inclusion of all levels of economic operation?

[Korten comment: James Roberson articulated the concept in subsidiarity economics quite some years back, but not to anything like the level of detail you are suggesting. I suspect such matters will be worked out over time.]

Atlee: 2) The bottom up model you suggested for worker/consumer owned enterprises owning the larger enterprises for whose production they create parts, is a very important institutional suggestion that should be included in your main piece. Is this your idea, or did you pick it up from somewhere else? It is so simple, yet so powerful, and I haven't heard of it before.

[Korten comment: It really isn't very new. Indeed, there are lots of structural examples already — including Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware, and VISA, though they don't include the value dimensions. It is imbedded in Dee Hock's chaordic organization concept.]

Atlee: 3) Why do you exclude financial interests from your definition of stakeholders? They are obviously stakeholders, no? Isn't it just a matter of making sure they don't have undue power among the whole spectrum of stakeholders?

[Korten comment: I'm suggesting that for an economic system to work for living people and their communities, ownership must be limited to people who also have a non-financial stake in the enterprise, because rights almost inevitably follow ownership. Extending the rights and powers of ownership to absentee owners whose only interest in the firm is financial is the heart of the dysfunction of the suicide economy. Marjorie Kelly, editor of Business Ethics, will have a book out on this issue soon with the titleThe Divine Right of Capital. She makes the case that beyond the initial financing of a corporation, shareholders contribute nothing to the enterprise. See: http://www.business-ethics.com/publishe.htm.]

Atlee: 4) I would like to suggest that "a pattern language" is the form we need to clarify the many aspects of the vision you are coming to. A "pattern language" is architect/planner Christopher Alexander's term for a coherent collection of design elements for a system -- in his case, the design elements needed to make a liveable Place, from micro-factors like back yards to macro-factors like regional plans. In a pattern language, each design element acts like a systemic "need" which can be satisfied in a wide variety of ways, an approach which allows for (and actually encourages) creativity and diversity.

As an example of such a map, I URGE (perhaps I should PLEAD with) you to take a look at Stuart Cowan's "Patterns of a Conservation Economy" <http://www.conservationeconomy.net> which delineates a pattern language for bioregional sustainability. Cowan's modular web of sustainability design factors constitutes (or at least has the potential to constitute) a mini-encyclopedia of sustainable ideas and practices, such as Awareness of Consumption and Its Effects, Beauty and Play, Community-Based Financial Institutions, Cyclical Patterns of Production and Consumption, Local Currencies and Trading Systems, Practical Skills in Support of Place, Regional Tax Revenue Sharing, Urban Growth Boundaries, Waste as a Resource, Wildlife Corridors, and dozens more. Remember, each one of these systemic needs can be satisfied in many different ways, which makes room for all the different initiatives we're all working on. Cowan's whole pattern is layed out in a web-like chart, and you can click on any part of it to get a succinct description of that factor and its links to related elements in the overall pattern language -- AND (and I think this is where its special power as a resource for self-organization lies) you find descriptions of organizations that are actually working on actualizing that particular pattern . The whole map -- in its concept, content and presentation -- gives me hope that we actually can pull together our far-flung movement into a coherent whole. > The only thing that I find seriously lacking with Cowan's work is that it isn't plugged into a co-intelligent PROCESS that helps it evolve and improve over time through the well-facilitated participation of experts, graduate students, think-tanks, etc... But the potential is mindboggling, once combined with your breakthrough conceptualizations....

[Korten comment: Thanks for the tip. It is an amazingly sophisticated web presentation. I was pleased to see that the institutional issues are imbedded in it. He seems to side step the conflict with the culture and institutions of the suicide economy, but that is perhaps appropriate given what he is doing. His framing of a conservation economy seems remarkably similar to the frame of the living economy. The main difference is the name.]

Atlee: 5) Richard Perl writes: "All of this needs a strong local component, which is consistent with chaordic organization, but there is a level upon which values based global coordination is required, and the thinking and infrastructure to empower that coordination is fortunately within our grasp (and network)." I would like to suggest that the Simultaneous Policy <http://www.simpol.com> is a major and vital initiative in that direction. I've just introduced SP founder John Bunzl to Tom Hurley at the Chaordic Commons. Finger's crossed.

6) Richard Perl's suggestion of "investomers" caused me to look up "invest" in my American Heritage. Provocatively, it comes from the Latin for "to clothe or surround". That evoked in me a sense of "to embrace or support". Most of the definitions — with the notable exception of the first, familiar one -- are actually inspiring: "To devote morally or psychologically, as to a purpose; commit. To endow with authority or power. To endow with an enveloping or pervasive quality. To clothe or adorn. To cover completely; envelop. To spend or devote for future advantage or benefit." What if investment meant (to merge your paradigm with Vicki Robin's) "to endow greater life to something by devoting some of your life energy to it." Talk about serving life!

[Korten comment: That perfectly captures a concept I've been reaching for. Pure financial investment drives pathology because it separates the flow of money from the flow of the life energy of the person of the person who "owns" the money. In a proper economic system financial investment  will be linked to and support the flow of one's life energy. The reverse puts the values in the wrong order and is pathological. Thanks. This feels like a breakthrough. While the way Perl and you are framing it is powerful, we should not that the idea of combining investors and customers is not new, as for example consumer cooperatives. The Seikatsu Clubs in Japan are a leading example.]

Atlee: I also looked up "customer." The definition is uninspiring, but the word clearly comes from "custom," one of the definitions of which is "habitual patronage, as of a store; habitual customers, patrons." This clearly comes from the more basic meaning of "custom" as "a habitual practice." I begin to sense a difference I never was aware of, between a customer and a consumer. Customer is a word grounded in familiarity and the regular rhythms of community life. There's a sense of the customers supporting a store through what they buy. (This begins to be distorted, while still maintaining this connotation, in the definition of a custom as "tribute, service or rent paid by a feudal tenant to a lord"!)

And so Richard's strange word is not so strange after all: "Investomer" combines investor and customer into one role, which involves supporting healthy economic activities through the contribution of one's life energy — perhaps, for example, through such actions as paying a bit more for something that is local or organic. Anyone playing that role knows that investomer investment (and consuming) happens in and through life and community, and the return is greater life and community. Investment is not about money that generates more money. And even the transactions of the marketplace are not about exchange so much as about mutuality, mutual support, a step closer to gifting. The customer (or investor) and business are saying to each other: "I want you to thrive through my gift to you." The gifting of an investomer ranges from purchases through provision of capital, and a thousand creative combinations of those. Provocative. Makes me think of Vicki Robin again....

Coheartedly

Tom Atlee

The Co-Intelligence Institute * PO Box 493 * Eugene, OR 97440

http://www.co-intelligence.org

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Posted July 23, 2001